Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No NormalMs. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson (2014)

Summary

Kamala Khan is a 16 year old Muslim girl from New Jersey. Kamala, who writes Avengers fan fiction, is tired of being “different” and wishes she were more like Captain Marvel. She gets her wish, giving her the ability to shape-shift, and dons the superhero name Ms. Marvel.

Review

This was the first comic book I’ve ever read, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. I chose to read it as part of a reading challenge I’m doing this year.

I think it’s super cool that the superhero is a Muslim girl (yay diversity!), providing some insight in what it’s like to grow up as a Pakistani American. Ms. Marvel mentions Pakistani traditions, clothing, dietary restrictions, and religious practices. Kamala struggles to balance family life (her parents have strict rules and high expectations) and social life (her white American friends want to party and drink). I wish her white American friends were less stereotypical, but maybe they’ll introduce more characters in future releases.

A page from Ms. MarvelThat said, it’s not all about Kamala being a Pakistan American; that just happens to be her background in this coming-of-age superhero story. I really liked the colorful art and the writing was good, though the plot didn’t seem to be terribly original for a comic book.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Ms. Marvel. It was a fun read, I liked the cultural diversity, and Kamala makes a great role model. As someone unfamiliar with comic books, I didn’t have any problem jumping in to this one. It might have been useful to know about Captain Marvel beforehand (I’d never heard of her before), but it wasn’t necessary.

Bonus points for having an adorable winged sloth that occasionally showed up in the background. <3

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Comic books, especially Marvel
  • Muslim role models
  • Superheroes
  • Geeky girls who kick butt
  • Cultural diversity
  • Coming-of-age stories
  • Adorable winged sloths

The Thief

The ThiefThe Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1996)

Summary

Gen is the self-proclaimed world’s best thief — he even succeeded in stealing from the King himself — but his bragging has landed him in prison. Now the King’s Magus wants Gen’s help with the nearly impossible task of stealing a lost artifact.

Review

I felt so-so about The Thief. It has a decent story (though it was slow in the beginning) with an interesting protagonist, but it’s definitely intended for a younger reader. I’ve heard that the sequel, The Queen of Attolia, is better, so I’ll give it a try to see how it compares.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Anti-heroes
  • Fantasy worlds
  • Middle grade to young adult books
  • Plot twists
  • Newbery Honor books

$2.99 End-of-the-World eBooks

Google Play is currently having a $2.99 sale on “end-of-the-world reads.” Since I’ve read several of them, here are my recommendations:

Recommended:

Station Eleven
A flu pandemic almost wipes out all of the world’s population. [Review]
Ready Player One
The key to a vast fortune is hidden within an MMO virtual reality simulation. [Review]

Brave New World
An “ideal” society has been created through genetic engineering and brainwashing.
Feed
Network devices implanted in the brains of American consumers are exploited by corporations.
The Handmaid's Tale
Women are subjugated in a totalitarian Christian theocracy. [Review]
1984
The government uses surveillance and propaganda to eliminate independent thinking.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Humanoid androids are also practically indistinguishable from humans. [Review]
The Giver
A community has eliminated emotion, color, and memory in order to eliminate pain. [Review]
 

Not recommended:

Atlas Shrugged
Aggressive regulations cause vital industries to collapse.
Lord of the Flies
A group of boys on an uninhabited island try to govern themselves.

Find Me

Find MeFind Me by Laura van den Berg (2015)

Summary

A mysterious sickness has spread across America, causing patients to forget everything and die within days. Joy is a young woman who works the graveyard shift at a grocery store in Boston. Abandoned as a baby, she grew up in a series of foster care and group homes and now she drinks cough syrup to numb the pain of her past. When it is discovered that Joy might be immune to the sickness, she joins 149 other potentially immune people at a hospital in rural Kansas for study.

Quarantined at the hospital, Joy and the other patients submit to strange rules and daily tests by doctors and nurses in hazmat suits. After things fall apart at the hospital, Joy escapes and journeys across the devastated country in search of her mother.

Review

Find Me is easily divisible into two very distinct parts: Joy in the hospital (first half) and Joy outside the hospital, trying to get to her mom in Florida (second half). I liked the first half so much better than the second. A mysterious pandemic with a potentially unreliable author quarantined in a strange hospital? Sounds great. Cross-country bus trips and doing drugs with bizarre people in the woods? A lot less interesting. The second half of the book was just a weird mess. I kept reading, hoping for some great revelation, but it never happened. Sadly, Find Me isn’t a book I’d recommend. :/

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Near future apocalypses
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Foster care
  • Grim, gloomy, and bizarre
  • Pandemics

Gone Girl

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)

Summary

On the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears unexpectedly.

I don’t want to ruin the story, so I won’t say much more than that. 😛

Review

Gone Girl was a book I liked, but didn’t love. The twists and turns and unreliable narrators made for a really interesting story, but I couldn’t stand the crazy, despicable characters… though I guess that’s the point.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Mystery, suspense, and crime genres
  • Dark, psychological thrillers
  • Complex personalities
  • Gender issues
  • Red herrings
  • Marriages gone bad
  • Unreliable narrators

The movie (2014)

A movie based on Gone Girl (also called Gone Girl) starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike was released in October. I watched the movie shortly after finishing the book and I was impressed by how true it stayed to the book. I had heard that it had an alternate ending, but I was disappointed to find it more or less unchanged. Nonetheless, the movie was really well done and I recommend seeing it.

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

Summary

Marie-Laure is a girl living in Paris with her father, who works for the Museum of Natural History. When she goes blind, her father makes her a model of the city that she learns by touching the miniature buildings and roads. When the Nazis invade Paris, Marie-Laure and her father flee with what may be the museum’s most treasured jewel.

Meanwhile in Germany, a young orphan boy named Werner tinkers with radios for fun and becomes an expert at how they work. He attracts the attention of a German official, who gets him a spot in an elite Hitler Youth academy, which leads him into the German military.

The two stories converge in the small coastal city of Saint-Malo, France.

Review

All the Light We Cannot See goes back and forth in time, following the two characters throughout World War II. The writing is beautiful and the ending is sad, but fitting. Having studied both German and French, I give it bonus points for throwing in occasional words and phrases in the two languages. Overall, I liked it and would recommend it if you like historical fiction.

Here’s a part I enjoyed, where a Frenchman talks about coal in a radio broadcast for children:

Consider a single piece [of coal] glowing in your family’s stove… That chunk of coal was once a green plant, a fern or reed that lived one million years ago, or maybe two million, or maybe one hundred million… Every summer for the whole life of that plant, its leaves caught what light they could and transformed the sun’s energy into itself. Into barks, twigs, stems. But then the plant died and fell, probably into water, and decayed into peat, and the peat was folded inside the earth for years upon years… And eventually the peat dried and became like stone, and someone dug it up, and the coal man brought it to your house, and maybe you yourself carried it into the stove, and now that sunlight — sunlight one hundred million years old — is heating your home tonight.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • World War II
  • Beautiful prose and metaphors
  • Childhood interrupted by war
  • Blindness
  • Electronics (especially radios)
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  • Snippets of German and/or French languages

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)

Summary

Arnold “Junior” Spirit is an awkward teenage cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington. Trying to rise above the poverty-stricken, self-destructive world he grew up in, he transfers to an all-white high school outside the reservation.

Review

True Diary has been banned for including profanity and subjects like racism and masturbation. I like Alexie’s response:

I certainly respect any parent’s right to determine what their child is reading. They don’t get to determine it for a whole school or community, but that said I was the only Democrat in my high school. I went to high school with a bunch of extremely Republican Christians (in other words, the kind of people who generally seek to ban my book) and let me tell you — those conservative Christian kids and I were exactly alike. I was publicly inappropriate, they were privately inappropriate. All this stuff that is controversial is stuff that kids are dealing with on a daily basis.

True Diary CartoonTrue Diary is semi-autobiographical; Alexie estimates that it is about 78% true. While it covers some sad and serious topics, it’s also funny and something young readers should relate to. Junior’s diary is interspersed with his hand-drawn cartoons, which give life to the story.

I didn’t love it, but I think True Diary is worth reading. It definitely was written for a young audience, though — best suited for teenagers.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Native American culture
  • Self-deprecating humor
  • Coming of age books
  • Stories with illustrations

We

We book coverWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924)

Summary

D-503 is a citizen of the One State, where efficiency, precision, and reason are prized above all else and people are numbers rather than individuals. D-503 is the chief architect on the Integral spaceship that will allow the One State to subjugate any alien life to its way of life.

By chance, D-503 meets a beautiful and enticing woman named I-330, who lures him into aiding her rebel agenda against the One State.

Review

We was original and audacious when it was written almost 100 years ago, shortly after the Russian Revolution. It heavily inspired books like 1984 and A Brave New World and it was banned in the Soviet Union until 1988.

While I appreciate the influence We has had on dystopian literature, I didn’t enjoy it. I found it weird and really hard to follow, though maybe that can be attributed to translation. I don’t know. Here’s an example of a paragraph from We:

All night strange wings were about. I walked and protected my head with my hands from those wings. And a chair, not like ours, but an ancient chair, came in with a horse-like gait; first the right foreleg and left hind leg, then the left foreleg and right hind leg. It rushed to my bed and crawled into it, and I liked that wooden chair, although it made me uncomfortable and caused me some pain.

I just can’t make sense of that.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Totalitarianism
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Political satire
  • The Russian Revolution
  • Banned books
  • Dystopian literature

Station Eleven

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Summary

Station Eleven begins with a present day performance of King Lear, during which a famous Hollywood actor named Arthur Leander dies on stage. Leander’s death is quickly overshadowed by the onset of a flu pandemic, which wipes out almost all of the world’s population and completely shatters our modern way of living.

Two decades later, a young woman named Kirsten who was a child in the King Lear performance, has found a home in the Traveling Symphony, a small troupe of actors and musicians that travels between scattered villages.

Station Eleven jumps around in time to events before, during, and after the pandemic, telling the stories of many different people, all connected in some way through Arthur Leander.

Review

After hearing so much praise for Station Eleven online, I knew I had to read it. I didn’t know much other than the fact that it was a post-apocalyptic book, so I wasn’t sure what to make of the initial King Lear part of the story. I was hooked when out of nowhere I read:

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

Overall, I thought that Station Eleven was interesting and worth reading, but I’m not quite sure it lived up to all the hype I saw.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Global epidemics
  • Hollywood celebrity gossip
  • Post-apocalyptic stories
  • Shakespeare
  • The Walking Dead
  • Survivialism
  • Religious fanatics

Best Books & Games of 2014

Happy New Year! Here’s a list of my favorite books and games of 2014. The items within each category category aren’t ranked; they’re chronological.

Books:

Flowers for Algernon
Flowers for Algernon
The Martian
The Martian
A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove
Kindred - Cover
Kindred

Games:

Dominion
Dominion
Portal
Portal
Epic Battle Fantasy 4 NPC
Epic Battle Fantasy 4
Hearthstone
Hearthstone